Apologies in the delay of this post – I have spent the last two days in bed really unwell, I guess my body has finally caught up with me after the last few weeks!
It’s a long one, so sit comfortably!!
Well, it has been two days since the launch of Train The Change, and it still doesn’t feel real! That night was more than just a launch to me, more than just a course. It was the moment that all my time as an activist had led up to – the most important moment of my life. The first time I have truly felt pride in myself.
Whilst the family were getting dressed up and ready for the night – I was, not so discreetly, having an anxiety attack and generally panicking. I decided that perhaps some time on my own before would be a good idea – get myself together!
I arrived at the venue and checked for the third time I had everything, then got everything ready, then checked I had everything again!
The first two people to arrive were the community development officer Cara, and Dave, chairman of our community group Newington Big Local – thankfully, both friends of the family so I was put slightly at ease.
More and more people arrived, and with every one, my stomach somersaulted again!
We waited for everyone to arrive – some didn’t make it…but that’s ok – they missed out!
To my surprise one of the women brought with her, her daughter – aged around 12 years old. Apparently people were questioning whether or not she, and her 14 year old friend should be there. A question that would be answered with outstanding clarity.
We handed out questionnaires to everyone; 8 multiple choice questions, and then an anonymous ‘how do you feel’ forms, along with a single word card that wasn’t explained until the last part of the evening.
We began the speeches, and I don’t mind admitting, mine was a disaster, nerves got the better of me!
Rachel from edUKate Training spoke, and then we were ready to begin.
We started with the short film I made – ‘HIV – A Brief History’ – a timeline video with year-by-year statistics and information. The video made people relive the pandemic from the beginning and have fresh in their minds just how serious it still is.
Next we moved on to the 2014 statistics – and spoke about how many people are affected in the UK – when put in to a comparison context, the group were visibly shocked at just how many people that is.
Then came the group work – ‘Myths and Facts’ – Printed out on 19 cards were myths and facts surrounding HIV & AIDS.
The group were spilt up in to three sub-groups and asked to decide amongst themselves whether the information on the cards were true or not. What ensued shocked me.
To me, the things on the cards were obvious. Hearing the debates between the groups was intense! Some were so passionate about their answer that at one point I thought an argument would break out!
The exercise was supposed to last just a few minutes – it was closer to 15…but the conversation, the debate – it was great to hear!!
When each group had finished, we went through the answers – and some of the group were really shocked at the answers – they really learnt from the exercise!
After a quick break I then explained exactly what HIV is – how the virus works and how it affects the body – then did the same with AIDS – and talked about the difference between the two.
Then came the part I was looking forward to the most – a single question that I needed the answer too.
“Raise you hand if you know what PeP is?”
Only two members of the group raised their hands – both gay men.
The only thing that can prevent you contracting HIV once you are exposed to it – and only two? There were 20 people in the room. Ages ranged from 12 – 55. There were girls there that had not long left school – there was one that had only JUST done sex education at school. The number worried me!
I explained exactly what PeP is, how they can get it and stressed the importance of time and adherence.
We spoke about treatments and support for HIV – and looking at some peoples expressions – they realised just how important antiretroviral drugs are, and just how ‘clever’ the virus is when it comes to resistance.
Then came the part about Stigma – The part for me that is so vital, so important, and the reason I was standing before them!
I had given them all a card with a word on it – words associated with Stigma.
I asked the group to remember a time the word on their card had applied to them. Then told the group that at some time since my diagnosis every single one of these words had applied to me – applied to others living with HIV.
I then spoke about times I had been stigmatised – by old friends, by people on the internet and of course – the guy at the jobcentre.
We spoke about the effects of stigma and one of the group Suzzanne, spoke about her time as a nurse in the 80’s…something that would bring a tear to nearly every eye in the room.
She spoke about two men that had been isolated to a room, in which people couldn’t go in without being completely covered – gloves, aprons, eye protection etc.
People were looking through the glass, and fearing the men inside – all but Suzzanne. She was pregnant at the time and was specifically told she was not to go inside. She refused.
“When I looked in to that room, I didn’t see the illness, I saw two men – early to mid twenties. Age went away from them, I saw the look on one of the boys faces – I saw a scared boy that was dying. I went in, held his hand and comforted him. He can’t have lived more than two days after that.”
Everyone in the room had a look of horror on their faced as they realised it was like that back then – and everyone in the room gave Suzzanne a round of applause – she was one of those first people that fearlessly gave support, not stigma.
I then played the Support Not Stigma video and ended the session – slightly later than planned!
We handed out the same questionnaires that we had at the beginning and gave people their certificates.
I will publish the results of the before and after – but I will share with you one participants score.
The 12 year old girl, that it was suggested shouldn’t have been there.
Before the course, knew nothing about HIV & AIDS – she scored just 2/8 on the multiple choice.
After the course, she scored an amazing 8/8 – and on her feedback form wrote this
“I disagreed with the time limit of the course…I wanted it to last longer, I want to know even more! I really enjoyed it!”
She then came to me as I was packing up and said
“I think it is wrong that people have treated you differently – you are a really nice man, and having HIV doesn’t change that”
The words of a 12 year old girl, that ‘shouldn’t have been there’ will stay with me for the rest of my life!
All my love
FOR RESULTS POST – CLICK THIS LINK